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Pre-K Supporters Seek More State Funding in Alabama and Texas

Recognizing the importance of early-childhood learning, lawmakers in Alabama and educators in Texas are proposing that their states increase funding for public prekindergarten programs.

In Texas, proposed legislation includes a bill that would provide more state funding so public schools can increase the current half-day preschool program for eligible 4-year-olds to a full-day program. Lawmakers had cut funding that had paid for local districts to offer full-day programs in 2011. Now, school districts that want to offer a full-day program have to rely on local funding.

The proposal by a San Antonio lawmaker comes on the heels of the successful bid by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro last week to convince voters to support a local sales tax increase to pay for a citywide, full-day prekindergarten, according to a news report.

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who filed the bill Monday, noted that extensive research has shown how children benefit from attending full-day prekindergarten.

"Providing a quality education to Texas schoolchildren should be our state's number one priority," Villarreal said. "Innovating and investing in education is the key to building our economy, growing the middle class, and fulfilling our obligation to the next generation."

Another proposed bill calls for opening public prekindergarten programs to all 4-year-olds; only those who are low-income, speak limited English, are homeless or participate in foster care, or have active-duty military parents are currently eligible. Another bill would limit class sizes to 18.

In Texas, more than 224,000 children attend a state-funded preschool, leaving about 37 percent of 4-year-olds who don't attend either a state-funded or federally-funded program, according to the State of Preschool 2011 report by the National Institute for Early Education Research

In Alabama, the state Board of Education plans to ask legislators for another $5 million on top of the $19 million spent on public prekindergarten annually. Meanwhile, advocates and business leaders were expected to hold a press conference Wednesday to ask for even more money—$12.5 million annually over the next decade to pay for the expansion of pre-K to all 4-year-olds, according to a news report.

Just 6 percent—or less than 3,400—of Alabama's 4-year-olds attend public preschool, and enrollment has remained low due to limited resources, according to the State of Preschool report. When it comes to accessibility, Alabama ranks near the bottom of the 39 states that offer public preschool.

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